The Fresh Loaf

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Life with Fred: maintaining a starter in pictures

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BobS's picture

Life with Fred: maintaining a starter in pictures

There's lots of discussion and great information about starters on TFL. Everyone does things a little differently, and what works for you is best. Here's what works for me.

I typically make two sourdough loaves a week. Sometimes more, and sometimes I miss a week, sometimes two. Sometimes I make more than two loaves.

When I started baking sourdough I had a lot of questions and two constraints. First, I traveled a fair bit for work, often on short notice, so I needed a process that was not too fussy  - no twice-daily feedings, no big mason jar of goo on the kitchen counter.  Second, I hate waste; the idea of discarding half of anything bothers me. I addressed the first constraint by having Fred live in the fridge nearly all the time; and addressed the second by keeping him fairly small. Here's Fred:

That's a half-cup container, and it contains 2.5 ounces of Fred. He's a little guy. Fred is a 100% hydration starter, so he's 50/50 flour/water by weight.  Fred's hydration is not so important, but one reason 100% is nice because it makes the math simpler. Fred is too small to make bread by himself, I use him to innoculate a levain that typically ferments 12-14 hours.

I made the original Fred about 3-4 years ago using the great instructions on this site from Debra Wink. Pineapple juice rocks.

The evening before (or two evenings before if I am retarding the final proofing) I take Fred out of the fridge and build a levain. Sometimes, when I have presence of mind, I take him out an hour or two before I start to let him warm up a bit, but often I just take him right out of the fridge. This is what he looks like after being in the fridge for about 10 days:

Sometimes, after a week or so, Fred will blow his top in the fridge. Not a big deal, and if no one notices for a day or two Fred will create a dry crust on top to keep his innards moisty. Fred's a bit of a teetotaler: I very seldom see hooch, perhaps only after a couple of weeks in the fridge. If Fred looks all watery and hoochy, I might feed him once or twice, but usually I will let him warm up and he comes back to life.

I feed Fred in a 1:2:2 ratio: 1 part starter, 2 parts flour, 2 parts water. My experience  (YMMV) is that this ratio provides adequate food so that he will be in good shape to innoculate a levain in a week, and can tolerate cooling his heels for longer if necessary . I always (well, almost always) remove 2 oz (of the 2.5 total) to start the levain build:

There's just a little bit of Fred left (0.5 oz):

The 1:2:2 ratio means we need to add 1 oz of water and 1 oz of flour in order to make Fred the man he was.  So we add 1 oz  water (that's a chopstick, which works really well for mixing the remaining starter and water) and then 1 oz flour. I feed Fred with AP or Bread flour, but I always give him a little treat of rye:

The 2 oz of starter is built into the levain - in this case a stiffer levain for Pain au Levain. There's no waste; I haven't discarded any starter.

If the formula for the levain called for less than 2 oz of starter,  I decrease the amount of flour and water in the levain by the excess amount of starter. For example, if the formula called for 1 oz of starter, I would use 2 oz of Fred, but then reduce the amount of flour and water I add by 0.5 oz each (that's what I meant about the 100% making the math easier). (It could be that innoculating the levain with more than the amount of starter called for in the formula changes the flavor profile of the bread. That's okay; I'vehad no complaints yet, and I have other details of technique to work out before addressing that one. If I found that it did make a difference, I would simply scale Fred down.)

The levain I'm building often has a different hydration than Fred. Sometimes it uses a different type of flour, e.g. rye. No matter.

The chopstick doesn't work for a lot of stiff starter, so I switch to the handle of a wooden spoon.

The levain goes in the proofing box overnight. Fred goes in for an hour or so just to help get his juices flowing. (I'm writing this in New Hampshire in February - the proofing box is required equipment). Then Fred goes in the fridge and does not reappear for a week or so. It seems to take about 4-5 days for Fred to develop sufficient strength in the fridge. If I want to use him sooner I will take him out and place him on the counter or in the proofing box until he's bubbly.

The next morning the kitchen is at 63F, but the levain looks good:

Fred, flour, water, salt:


linder's picture


Nice job keeping Fred busy.  He seems to like what you are doing for him and does a good job for you in baking sourdough bread.  I keep my starter in the fridge most of the time too and I also hate to waste any 'discard'.  If there is any, I use it to make sourdough crackers, pancakes or some tasty English Muffins.

Thanks for the great description of your process.


isand66's picture

Nice write-up.

its great to hear about people's starter routines.  I keep mine in yhe fridge all the time as well.  I keep mine at 65% and adjust as needed.



Janetcook's picture

Life with Fred sounds very relaxed and the loaves he raises sure look like he is one healthy fellow :-)

I taking care of my starter I have found it to be very accommodating as well as flexible and forgiving.  If one keeps a starter for any length of time it becomes readily apparent why sourdough has survived living with all sorts of humans for thousands of years....

Thanks for the post


evonlim's picture

happy Fred, did a good job with flour and water!! 

thanks for the tip of no wastage. 


varda's picture

Fred makes really good bread.   Hope you are planning to bring some to TFL meet-up.   But a general question to them as names their starters.   You realize you eat them don't you?    Just curious.   -Varda

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

We name our starters so that we remember to care for them. I do not eat Audrey, I feed her. And I use portions of her to make bread. But the portion that remains and is fed is Audrey, not the portion I consume. Anything else would be barbaric. 

Boboshempy's picture

I would like to introduce him to Paul one day!


dabrownman's picture

your Fred like I keep my starter, but mine is usually all rye sour with a little Spelt and WW at 65% hydration.  80 grams is plenty  for fridge storage and for baking a couple of loaves a week.  Mine doesn't have a name but I have an apprentice named Lucy who only speaks German and is dumb as a stump. 

dabrownman's picture

Bob.  Those loaves look perfect!  Thanks for telling folks how to keep less starter and not waste any flour with so many hungry in the world.  Conservation and thrift are good things.  A gem of a post.

rockboy2001's picture


Thank you so much for the great advice.  I cant wait to get home and get a starter going.



BobS's picture

Couple of things.

  1. You will need an active, robust starter before you take my laissez-faire-let-him-cool-his-heels approach. This will require more frequent feedings over probably more than a couple of days. The best resource I've found for getting a starter started is Debra Wink's article right here on TFL:
  2. I'm not sure my maintenance procedure works with an unnamed starter.
rockboy2001's picture

OK Thanks,


I have just read the two articles by Debra.  Sure glad I don't need to be able to say some of the microbes names to do this!!!

 I am sure I can find something in there for a suitable name though.

 Even though I plan to eat it at some point the starter is alive and deserves a name, may ask a grandkid to help out by seeing how they pronounce some of Debora's little crawlies names!!!!

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

A 1/2 pint mason jar makes a great starter home. I have some concerns using plastic and acidic starter. It is very small. I use the wide mouth variety so it is easy to spoon feed.

Pompom's picture

I work mine similar to your treating of Fred and hate to waste and throw any starter out.  I keep a heaping tablespoon in a 4oz mason jar and does just fine for months at a time.  I only feed before baking and has kept well for 15 years now.  I remember buying some culture ie; Russian & San Fransiscan way back when and thought the Russian culture was really powerful.  I think that is where mine began but it's been so long.  By now, it's been innocculated with local cultures here in western Maryland and I call it my Maryland sourdough starter.  I have never used a proofing box, just leave it out on the counter is all.  I double it times 4 and remove another tablespoon to replace back in the 4oz jar for another time.  This works good for me but I've been thinking of changing things up and will follow your formula for increasing it with 100% hydration and see if it looks any different than what I've been doing.  Thanks so much for your wonderful's as simple as that. 

BobS's picture

Sounds like you have an excellent low-stress system in place. That's key; starters are like dogs - they can sense when you are afraid of them.

bread1965's picture

I'm just starting a starter and wasting too much flour. Learning lots. Pictures really helped! Off to read Debra's articles. Thanks!